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Gothic Textualis: Paleography

Section 2: The Transition from Caroline to Textualis

The scripts of the later 11th through the 12th centuries show to varying degrees the symptoms of the transition from Caroline to Textualis. It is helpful to have a category, “Protogothic”, for varieties of script in this period that are recognizably no longer canonical Caroline Minuscule but are not yet fully-developed Textualis.


Aspect in the transitional period

The most obvious feature of late Caroline and 12th-century Protogothic script is a change in the proportions of letterforms. Minim-height grows markedly in proportion to the whole letter — or, to put it another way, the relative length of ascenders and descenders decreases. At the same time, the letters, and eventually the words, are laterally compressed. It is as if the small, rounded bowls of canonical Caroline Minuscule had been squeezed into elongated egg shapes. The change in proportion of the letters is apparent in this mid-12th-century manuscript from Germany:

Köln, Erzbischöfliche Diözesan- und Dombibliothek, Cod. 139, f. 21r.

The manuscript below, which has an extensive marginal and interlinear gloss, shows the change in proportion both in the main hand and in the less-formal glossing hand. Both manuscripts are recognizably Carolingian in their careful spacing and use of Rustic Capitals for headings. The differences in layout between this manuscript and the one above have more to do with purpose than with style or period: the Cologne manuscript is a liturgical manuscript containing a bishop’s part of the liturgy, while the more complex, glossed book from the Walters is designed for study.

Walters Art Museum, W.30, f. 6v. © 2011 Walters Art Museum, used under a CC BY-SA license.

In this early-12th-century English Gospel manuscript, the letters are even more markedly laterally compressed. That feature, combined with reduced space between lines, is beginning to make the columns of writing look denser:

Walters Art Museum, W. 18, f. 11v. © 2011 Walters Art Museum, used under a CC BY-SA license.

This manuscript also shows another of the signal features of the emergence of Textualis: the uniform treatment of the feet of letters, giving a characteristic rhythm at the baseline. The uniformity of the feet of minims tends to emphasize the vertical stroke as the basic building-block of Gothic script.

Note how every vertical stroke is finished at the bottom with a uniform hairline uptick, and how the accumulation of feet in that style affects the overall rhythm of the script:

the word eum is depicted from Walters 18, 12th century  eum


the sentence extendens manum appre- from Walters 18, 12th century extendens manum appre-


Meanwhile, the tops of upright strokes come to be embellished with forking penstrokes. You can see this feature is also apparent in the detail below, on the ascender of d and at the top of l:

paragraph excerpt from Walters 18, 12th century

Details above from Walters Art Museum, W. 18, f. 11v. © 2011 Walters Art Museum, used under a CC BY-SA license.


If you look up close at these and similar manuscripts of the 12th century, you will see that although the proportions of the letterforms have changed, the letters themselves overwhelmingly retain their Caroline Minuscule forms.

As the transition from Caroline to Gothic Textualis continues, though, a number of particular letterforms can be seen to change. Watch for these as signs of the emergence of Textualis:

  • Uncial d — the rounded form with stem leaning over to the left — reemerges and is used in variation with upright d.
  • Uncial (round) s — our normal form of the letter — is reintroduced at word-end only, where it alternates with tall s.
  • The upright stroke of t begins to peek ever so slightly above its crossbar.
  • The hasta of e begins to slope upward and to the right.
  • Following o, r comes to have a 2-shaped form. The or ligature in this shape is the normal form of that letter sequence in Textualis.
  • The bow of h bends around and finishes with a hairstroke pointing down and to the left. By the end of the 12th century, the end of that stroke descends below the baseline.
  • The 7-shaped “Tironian et” — the ancient sign for “and” used in Insular manuscripts — is reintroduced and gradually supplants the ampersand (e-t ligature), which was the exclusive form of et in Carolingian manuscripts.

In the detail below, you can see tall s at the end of (-)flictionis at the beginning of the line, and round s at the end of (-)uaricationis at the beginning of the next line. The upright of t in (-)flictionis pokes ever so slightly above its crossbar. The e in the second word in the first line, suę, has a hasta with a marked diagonal slant. And if you look at the little word between the lines, you can see o plus 2-shaped r. This word is mantator(um). The r looks like a 2 whose second stroke is a large swash down and to the right, and it is closely attached to the o it follows. The diagonal slash through the tail of the 2-shaped r indicates that the end of the word is abbreviated.

manuscript page from Walters 30, 12th century
from Walters Art Museum, W. 30, f. 6v. © 2011 Walters Art Museum, used under a CC BY-SA license.

In this detail below, you can see the use of round s at word end, and also the alternation between upright and Uncial d. The text reads:

regni insignia exterius conde-
corant eundem laudabilia

The round s is used at the end of exterius, something you would not see in earlier Carolingian manuscripts. Meanwhile, conde- uses an Uncial d, but eundem and laudabilia each have an upright d.

manuscript page from Walters 12, 12th century
from Walters Art Museum, W. 12, f. 5r. © 2011 Walters Art Museum, used under a CC BY-SA license.

This detail is a good chance to observe, too, how comparatively larger minim-height and the lateral compression of the letters have changed the look of the script. But note that the a and the g are still completely Caroline.

Are you ready to try recognizing transitional forms in the wild? Click ahead to the exercise in the next section to try your hand at telling Protogothic from Carolingian manuscripts.